Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Aryeh Cooks: Baguettes

Baguettes are the classic French bread.  There seems to be a trend here, where I keep saying things are easy, but it is the truth.  For many foods all you need is a good recipe, good instructions, and good technique.  The recipe I use is very simple.

5 and 1/3 cups of bread flour (unbleached is better but not necessary)
2 teaspoons of salt
2 and 1/4 teaspoons of yeast
2 cups of warm water (about body temp)

First mix all the dry ingredients together in a bowl.

Then add the water and mix.  You can use a stand mixer, a spoon or your hands.  Work it until it form a rough shaggy ball.  Then let it sit for about 5 minutes.  This rest allows the flour to fully hydrate and any gluten that has been produced to relax.

Warning: This paragraph contains science!!!  Gluten is a protein composite found in wheat flour.  Gluten is comprised of Glutenin and Gliadin.  The Glutenin looks like a long spring.  When the dough gets hydrated and worked the Glutenin springs get stretched out and worked into each other, exactly like a whole bunch of springs loose in a box.  This network of interlocked "springs" give bread dough its elasticity and allow for the bread to rise when carbon dioxide is released from yeast.  The important thing to know about yeast is that it does not generate bubbles in the dough.  Rather, it releases carbon dioxide into the water in the dough which is then released into existing air pockets in the dough.  So the more you work air into the dough when kneading it the better.

Now knead the dough for a couple of minutes, either by hand or with the dough hook on your stand mixer.  This works to integrate air bubbles into the dough and to build up gluten chains (interlinking of individual Glutenin strands togther).

Roll the dough into a rough ball and place the seam side down into a lightly oiled bowl.  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in the fridge.  This probably seems strange to a lot of people who make bread, because yeast does not work well in fridges as it go mostly dormant at about 45 degrees Fahrenheit.  Well recently I tried an extended fermentation, and I must say I love the results.  For convenience you don't need to dedicate a large extended period of time to bake bread.  Instead, you can break up each part of the process as it is convenience for you.  However, the big reason is flavor, overnight fermentation reduces the bitter yeast flavors and results in a much more complex flavor profile.  Additionally, letting it sit results in even more gluten development and therefor reduces the required amount of kneading when making the dough.  I recommend it for all bread doughs, and it will be featured in every Aryeh Cooks where I make a bread of some kind.

Leave the dough in the fridge overnight or for up to four days.  Take the dough out of the fridge about one to two hours before baking.  Split the dough into the number of baguettes you intend to bake (I make three).  It is important to try and degas the dough as little as possible.  Shape each piece into a Bâtard (a rectangular piece of dough about 6-8 inches long).

Then roll them out to the desired length, tapering the ends to get the classic baguette shape.  I have a special pan for baking baguettes but it is not necessary.  Just put the loafs on a clean piece of fabric or dishcloth with the seam down and with the fabric bunched up as show with the Bâtards above.  This ensures that they rise up and not out.

Brush the top of the baguettes with vegetable oil (I would recommend against using olive oil as it will give the bread a much darker almost burnt color when baked due to its lower smoke point) and cover loosely with plastic wrap.  I use a clean garbage bag and put the pan into it.  If you put the cloth and baguettes on a sheet pan you can do the same.

Let the dough proof for about an hour or until it increases by about one and a half times (this may take as long as an hour and a half).  About a half hour before baking preheat the oven to 550 degrees Fahrenheit and put an older sheet pan on the bottom rack.

Remove the plastic about 15 minutes before baking.  Right before the baking comes the scoring.  I would recommend transferring the loafs from the cloth to a sheet pan before you score them.  This is the hardest part and after baking about 20 baguettes I am still not very good at it, so don't stress about it, practice makes perfect.  The trick is to use a razor blade or serrated knife.  I get about four scores on a 18 inch baguette.  You want all the cuts to be on a diagonal in about the center inch of the loaf.  Additionally, you want the blade angled to the side (so not perpendicular to the table, rather at about a 45 degree angle).  You want the scoring to be about a half inch deep.  However, it is more important that you don't crush the loaf, so be gentle.

These are from my first attempts, and not very good (you will notice that each loaf has a different number of scores on it).  However, you should get the idea.

Now comes the trick to baking this kind of bread in your home oven.  The trick is steam.  It is important that in the first stages of baking steam is present.  The moisture keeps the top of the dough moist and allows it to have an excellent oven spring (large expansion of the loaf in the oven).  Additionally, it helps get a nice crisp crust.  The way you do this is to take one cup of hot water and pour it into the baking sheet at the bottom of the oven when you put the loafs onto the second to top shelf.

This is a bit of a juggling act.  Keep the hot water right next to the oven and as soon as you put the loafs in pour the water into the pan.  Be very careful here as boiling water will splash everywhere.  Additionally, make sure that the glass front of the oven is covered with a dishcloth as the initial spurt of boiling water spray could potentially cause it to crack.

As soon as the loafs are in and the water has been put in the steam pan, shut the oven and reduce the temperature to 450 degrees.  Bake for 12 minutes.  Then remove the steam pan being careful of any water still in it.  Then rotate the pan and bake for another 10-25 minutes (this all depends on your particular oven).  When the loaf is a nice dark golden brown and sounds hollow when knocked on it is done.  Transfer to a wire cooling rack for 45 minutes before cutting.

The important thing is to have fun and enjoy the nice crispy crust and soft insides of the baguette.  It stays good for a couple of days and an airline flight to California (I took three with me when I was joining my family on vacation), just store it in a paper bag.  When you want to eat it just heat your oven to 450 degrees and put the bread in for 2-3 minutes and the crust should crisp up again.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

23 Hours from Pittsburgh -- Part II

This is the second, and final part to our epic 23 hour journey from PIT to Teaneck. When you last left us, we crashed at a hotel in Pittsburgh at 1am. Three hours later, at 4am, we got up to catch a shuttle back to the airport to check in for our flight.

Since PIT is a teeny tiny little airport, it seems that most airlines don't actually want to staff their check-in counters, so they hire one or two angry, bitter people to deal with passengers using the terribly-designed self-check-in terminals. Having confirmed a rental car in Philly, we only wanted to take that leg of the flight (not continuing on to LGA), pick up our bags and rental car and drive home. To make a long story short, if we only wanted to fly that first leg, we'd need to shell out $1600, and they couldn't change the reservation because Continental made it. Continental, on the other hand, claimed not to be able to adjust the reservation because it was already in US Air's system, and were unwilling to help us fly home (even though it was their cancelled flight). The unhelpful desk agent at the Continental desk basically said, "We booked you on that flight, we're off the hook now."

Essentially, both Continental and US Air refused to help us in any way, and would be perfectly happy for us to remain in the Pittsburgh airport for the foreseeable future. And, while I was running back and forth between Continental and US Air, the nasty US Air customer "service" lady called the cops to have Stacy arrested because she wouldn't move 150lbs of (not) checked luggage and countless carryons while taking care of a very tired 2.5 year old. One thing I will say, is that the PA cop was the nicest person we dealt with in our entire PIT experience. And this brings us back to the moral of the story: Avoid flying both Continental and US Air, especially to/from Pittsburgh, PA.

Then, I noticed that the line for the security checkpoint went completely out of sight, extending well outside of the terminal building.
Even though we got there well before our flight, the issues at check in ate up some of that time, and it became readily apparent there was no way we had a shot of catching our 7am flight to Philly, even if we wanted to travel on to LGA.

At that point, we decided to cut our losses and just rent a car. 419.7 miles later, with some delays for parking at the side of the highway to nap (3hrs of sleep, remember?) and purchasing food, and some tag-team driving/napping we finally made it home.
Total travel time from PIT to Teaneck: 23 hours. And, for under 3 times the cost of checked luggage. So, again: Avoid flying both Continental and US Air, unless you don't mind being screwed over by their lack of customer service.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Not In Jersey Anymore

As Eli mentioned last week, the Lansey Family just came back from vacation.  Undoubtedly you will hear lots about it in the coming weeks.  I plan to disperse vacation posts into the normally scheduled programing so as not to bore you.

Moral of the story: If the earth starts shaking, you better start running/climbing (I recommend the streetlight post).

Thursday, May 19, 2011

23 Hours from Pittsburgh -- Part I

As you will undoubtedly hear more about in the next week or so, we just got back from an incredible Lansey Family Vacation in California. This post is not about that, but instead about the trip back. I apologize for this long post, so I'll give the moral first: Avoid flying both Continental and US Air, especially to/from Pittsburgh, PA.

Our flight back was on Sunday, from LA to Newark (EWR) with a 2 hour layover in Pittsburgh, PA (PIT). Other than some minor groping and a little bit of TSA sexual harassment, the trip from LA to Pittsburgh was uneventful. We got in on time (6:09PM), strolled to the Continental gate for our connecting flight, and saw far too many people waiting at the gate then could fit on a little Bombardier turboprop. Turns out that, due to weather, the two flights ahead of us from PIT to EWR were delayed many hours.

Nevertheless, the cranky Continental gate staff told us that, although delayed a little, our flight would be leaving only 45 minutes to one hour late. They told us that the plane was on its way from EWR, and then we'd be on our merry way.

However, it took a bit of sleuthing (hooray free WiFi and the truly amazing website flightstats.com), but I determined there are basically two planes that fly back and forth between PIT and EWR, with a 15-20min break between flights. The plane that was supposed to take us to EWR was actually still sitting in PIT. Before it could take us to EWR it first had to do a complete round trip to and from EWR, which amounts to around 3.5 hours of flying and turnover time, before it could even fly us to EWR.

That first flight (CO3431) eventually left PIT at 7:31PM (4.25 hours late), which meant that the absolute earliest we could get in to EWR was around 1AM. Oh joy. But, "Don't worry," the gate attendants lied to us, "the plane is on the way from EWR," and that "your flight will leave, it just will be a little bit late."

Meanwhile, the lovely Pittsburgh airport, being a teeny tiny useless little airport, starts shutting down at around 8PM. Stores close and it basically becomes a ghost town. Finally, at 9:17PM, when it was apparent that there was no way that this airport would be able to handle the incoming plane from EWR (it was after 9PM, after all!) they cancelled our flight. This is the plane we were not on:

Now, we were travelling with an energetic 2.5 year old. And a car seat. And a stroller. And carry-on bags. And, did I mention the 2.5 year old? We weren't always sitting quietly at the gate, watching movies on our nonexistent iPads. We were (slowly) roaming the airport, exploring the very nice, desolate child play area
occasionally wandering, slowly, past the gate. Eventually, we settled on the other side of the moving walkway (Delta has charging stations). When they announced the flight cancellation it was basically like, "Ladies and gentlemen, flight CO3370 has been cancelled. Please, will everyone please rush the gate like a crazy person to try and book themselves onto another flight before anyway else."

Needless to say, we didn't beat the rush:
Check us out, all the way at the back, on the right. You can see some of the luggage. And, this picture was taken after some of the line had already been cleared.

By the time we arrived (~11pm), to hear the gate agent declare to my face, "Well, I guess there is no one left" and whine about being tired and wanting to go home already (after telling a line of 50 people, 'Sorry, you can't go home today') there were no flights left to EWR the following morning. They could maybe get us standby on Tuesday. Or maybe Wednesday or Thursday (for the record, lots of these flights were cancelled today, as well!).

While waiting in the long line I researched flights on other airlines to any of the major NY area airports. But no other airlines had availability either. Eventually we found a flight leaving at 7am the next morning on US Air through Philadelphia (PHL) to LaGuardia (LGA), with a 4 hour layover. It takes 2 hours to drive from PHL to our house, and around 0.5-1hr from LGA to our house, so we said, "Fine, we'll take that first leg (1hr flight instead of 6 hours driving), and drive the rest of the way."

The Continental gate agent suggested they book the whole flight for us, since they may not have cars available in Philly. They did inform us, though, that it was likely that although we had one free checked bag per person on Continental, we'd need to pay the $25/bag fee on US Air, and no, they couldn't reimburse us for that; if we wanted we could wait till Thursday for the next available Continental flight. Oh, and they wouldn't reimburse us for the rental car either. But, we just wanted to get home, so we agreed to this anyway, and they booked the flight, and called to get our 3 giant checked bags out for us (and, told us the wrong place to look for them).

They were required to put us up in a local hotel for the night. By the time we found our bags, found the hotel shuttle, made it to the hotel and checked in, it was some time after midnight. I reserved a one-way rental car from PHL to Hackensack (1.5 miles from our house), and, just in case, one from PIT to Hackensack. Finally, at 1PM, we got to sleep.

For the remainder of the saga, tune in next week.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

A Church in Harlem

There is a very interesting church building in the Sugar Hill neighborhood of Harlem, near City College.
This is the Childs Memorial Temple chuch, and for some reason they incorporate the Star of David in their building facade (see the top of that building, above the cross). They even have them on their doors,
although the rightmost door (in shadow, it's hard to see it) has a stained glass cross in the same style as the stars. Note, that this "stained glass symbol in door" with "giant cross sign" style can be found elsewhere on churches in Harlem:
At first I thought that perhaps the Childs Memorial Temple building was originally a synagogue (not something unheard of), but I found a site which said that the church bought the building from "The Lido Theater" in 1952. Maybe before it was a theater it was a synagogue? I'm not sure how to look that sort of info up, but if a reader has any insight into this, I'd love to hear it!

Thursday, May 05, 2011

Mutated Lettuce

It seems we might be importing lettuce from Japan, since I recently bought a head of lettuce which contained some pretty cool mutations:

Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Rutgers Screw

In the past I have spoken of the Rutgers Screw, well this isn't about that kind of screw.  This is about an actual metal screw that I found while walking to class.
That's right a seriously mangled screw.

It has been stripped, bent and mushed.

With this mangled screw, I am launching a new contest, "The little mangled screw contest."  Whoever can come up with the most amusing story for this screw wins.

Sunday, May 01, 2011

Funny Old Note

The other day I was looking up the Cherokee language (I have no idea why) and I happened upon this hilarious note:

For those who can't read:
I HEREBY forewarn all persons against crediting my wife, Delilah McConnell, on my account, as she has absconded without my consent. I am therefore determined to pay none of her contracts. WILLIAM McCONNELL
May 15, 1828.
I presume that the Cherokee version says the same thing. What I don't understand is why did Bill go through all the trouble of posting a paper ad when he could have just called and cancelled the credit card.

In other news, Bin Laden has been shot and killed by the US... finally all those people can stop making fun of us.